Tag Archives: J.S. Giguere

Sunshine, lollipops and one black cloud

Hang around the Avalanche long enough, especially on a Saturday night when franchise royalty is on hand, and you’re tempted to ignore the one dark cloud and hope it goes away.

That’s what the Avs are doing, and they’re doing it exceptionally well. Barely 48 hours after starting goaltender Semyon Varlamov surrendered to police and spent a night in jail on domestic violence charges, the Avs won both ends of their first set of back-to-back games of the season, with Varlamov in net for the first.

The Avs are now riding their second six-game winning streak of the year and they’ve played just 13 times. The turnaround in the team’s performance since Patrick Roy took over as head coach is something pretty close to miraculous. After surrendering 152 goals in 48 games last season with the same goaltending tandem — Varlamov and veteran J.S. Giguere — the Avs have surrendered just 19 in 13 so far.

Giguere, who got the win Saturday night and has given up three goals in four games, said all three stars of the game could have been Avalanche defensemen, quite an endorsement of a group much maligned just a year ago. Roy always makes sure to credit the back-checking and tracking work of his forwards, a key part of his strategic approach.

Hockey is a game prone at times to mythic themes, and Saturday night was one of those times. When Roy’s first game as an NHL coach against his original team, the Canadiens, is a secondary story, there’s a lot going on.

The Avs are very fond of tribute ceremonies and enormous paintings. The decision to raise defenseman Adam Foote’s jersey to the rafters gave them an opportunity to conduct one of the former and commission two of the latter. It also served as a reminder of the vision Roy and executive vice president Joe Sakic are trying to translate into trophies for a second time. With Peter Forsberg, Ray Bourque and Alexei Gusarov in the house, there were plenty of role models around.

This year’s entire squad was out early for the ceremony. They were reminded that they aren’t the only young team to suffer through trying times before finding their stride. Foote caught the end of the lean years in Quebec before moving with the organization to Denver in 1995 and winning Stanley Cup championships in 1996 and 2001. He’s now working as a defensive consultant with the Avs, so I asked if he saw parallels.

“Yeah, for sure there are,” he said. “I think the leadership with Roy and Joe is huge, very calming for them, just like they were as leaders for us. They believe in what they’re going to do and this confidence just floats out into the room. The players, I think, can sense it.

“When Roy came to our team, traded from Montreal, he brought accountability to the locker room. It doesn’t matter what the professional sport is. You can’t win, the coach, the GM, the owner, they can’t hold you accountable. It’s got to come within the locker room, and he taught us that. That was probably one thing we were missing. Him and Mike Keane. Mike Keane was an unreal leader.

“But I do see this young group, they went through some tough times like we did in Quebec. I know Joe wouldn’t do it, or Patrick, if they didn’t have a goal in mind, and that’s to bring a Cup back.”

They’re a long way from that, of course, but they’re playing sensational hockey right now. “For us, we haven’t done anything yet,” said Gabriel Landeskog, the talented Swedish power forward who scored one goal Saturday night, set up another and is still three weeks from his 21st birthday. “We’re just getting going.”

At the other end of the spectrum is the 36-year-old Giguere, a Conn Smythe trophy winner and Stanley Cup champion himself in his younger days. When your starting goaltender spends a night in jail, attention naturally turns to his backup. Giguere is the best interview in the room, a smart, thoughtful player willing to speak his mind, as he did last spring when he ripped unnamed teammates for thinking more about summer vacation than finishing the season strong.

But questions about Varlamov make him uncomfortable, as they do his teammates and club officials. What are they going to say? They support their teammate. These are only allegations at this point. Let the process play out.

We won’t even know how serious that process is likely to be until the Denver district attorney decides what if any formal charges to file. The charges on the arrest warrant were pretty serious — a felony kidnapping count and a misdemeanor assault charge — but there’s no way to know if the DA’s charges will follow suit.

If charges are filed, it’s hard to imagine the legal process working quickly enough to endanger Varlamov’s availability to the Avalanche this season, so long as the club continues to stand by him. And so far, there doesn’t appear to be much public relations risk of standing by him. So when a national reporter asked Giguere if he could understand some fans being happy he was in goal Saturday night rather than Varlamov, he declined comment.

Still, there’s a legitimate hockey question about Giguere’s playing time simply because he’s been nearly perfect so far. As good as Varlamov has been, Giguere has been even better. The lone goal he gave up in Saturday’s 4-1 victory over Montreal was just the third he’s surrendered this season in four starts.

The year Roy turned 36, he started 63 games for the Avs and put up a goals-against average of 1.94, the only time in his career he was below 2. He also had a career-best nine shutouts. I’d been meaning to ask Giguere if he thought he was in good enough shape to play more, but asking him Saturday gave the question Varlamov overtones and he handled it like a live grenade.

“I’m satisfied with my role right now,” he said. “It’s a role that fits my body well right now, at my age. I’m 100 percent behind Varly and 100 percent happy with the ice time I have. If need be, if I need to play more, I’ll be ready for that, but I told Patrick, ‘I’ll be happy with whatever you give me.’ This is what it is to be a backup and you’ve just got to take it a day at a time.”

The team has generally taken the approach of not commenting on the Varlamov legal matter, but Roy did answer one question after Saturday’s game. He was asked whether his response to the Varlamov allegations — to put him back in net immediately, about 36 hours after he got out of jail — was informed by his own experience, back in 2000, when he was arrested for domestic violence after police responded to a 911 hangup call from his wife at the time. They found physical damage to the house and took Roy into custody. There was never any evidence of injury to his wife, just to a door in the house, so charges were dismissed.

“I was hoping never to have to answer that question again, but the answer is yes,” Roy said. “And I guess Varly is like me, I mean, appreciates that nobody is making a judgment. The best article I think was written by Terry Frei and he said let’s not make a judgment before the process is done and I thought that was something I appreciated at the time. And I’m sure Varly appreciates seeing that support from our fans and a lot of people around him.”

In this case, the police report confirmed bruises on Varlamov’s girlfriend, Evgenia Vavinyuk, consistent with a physical encounter. So this might be more complicated than Roy’s case, but we’ll know soon enough how Denver DA Mitch Morrissey sees it.

Until then, the goaltending rotation will remain what it has been. Varlamov, 25, has started nine games and has a record of 8-1 with a goals-against average of 1.78. Giguere is 4-0 with a GAA of 0.75.

“He looks like a 25-year-old,” Roy said of Giguere. “I saw him this summer and he was working so hard. Honestly, when you work that hard, eventually it’s going to pay off. That’s what our team does. Our team works hard night after night and we’ve been consistent in our effort which is, I think, one of the reasons why we have the results that we have. And our goaltenders are a big part of it as well. But Jiggy’s been working so hard. He certainly deserves a lot of credit for what’s going on for him right now. It’s fun to see it.”

The renaissance of the Avalanche under Roy is the NHL’s best early-season story. Except for that black cloud, the Sakic-Roy management era couldn’t be off to a better start.

Four goalies share credit for Avs’ fast start

It’s hard to know which goalie deserves the most credit for the Avalanche’s surprising 5-0 start.

There’s starter Semyon Varlamov, of course, who is 4-0 with a 1.0 goals-against average. In his case, it’s not just an average. He’s given up one goal in each of his starts, including a win at Washington against his former team.

There’s J.S. Giguere, the veteran backup, who pitched a brilliant shutout in Boston against the Bruins in his only start so far. He and Varlamov were named the second star of the week jointly by the NHL after leading the Avs to a 3-0 road trip.

There’s Francois Allaire, the goaltending coach brought in by head coach Patrick Roy after mentoring Roy and Giguere earlier in their careers.

“Francois Allaire help us a lot,” Varlamov said this morning after the Avs worked out at Family Sports Center. “He give us confidence. We work about two hours on the ice when Francois is here. We work with him always about 45 minutes extra. That’s why we stay a little longer. I think the last time I worked like that was five years ago when I had a Finnish goalie coach working with my coach back in Russia.”

And then, of course, there’s Roy himself, the legendary former goaltender and new head coach.

“I think Patrick has been a huge part of it,” said captain Gabriel Landeskog. “Just communicating with us players and talking with us, how we feel and if we need a day off. He’s open for discussion.”

Roy also gets credit from his players for bringing a system that allows for creativity and improvisation on the offensive end alongside accountability on the defensive end. No longer is it only the center expected to get back in transition.

Between the speed of the forwards and the renewed emphasis on pursuit and back-checking, opposing forwards don’t have the time to set up Colorado’s defensemen that they enjoyed too often last year.

“It’s good to be back home with three wins, that’s for sure,” Roy said this morning. “It was a fun trip for our team. Toronto, Boston and Washington, not easy buildings to win hockey games in. I thought we did really well.”

I asked him what he thought the keys to the undefeated road swing were.

“Well, first of all, the goaltending was key. When you’re on the road, you need your goaltenders to be your best player and I thought that was the case in those three road games.

“Toronto, we had more shots on net, I thought we had better chances than they had, especially the start of the game. We missed a few good chances. It could have been a 2-0 game for us right away. And I thought we respond well the rest of the game, we played really well defensively.

“The tracking, in my opinion, has been really solid throughout all those games. Only the second period in Boston, I’d say, and Washington, where we’ve been dominated by the other team. Boston had a strong second period, but we have to expect that. They’re at home, we had a great start, we took a 1-0 lead after one, (more) shots on goal, and then they had to come back. We expect that and that’s what they did.

“Washington was the opposite. I mean, they were 1-3 before the game. I expected them to play a strong game, especially at home. They’re in a five-game home stand. We had a great start. We took a 2-0 lead. And then the second is probably the period we’ve been most dominated — 19 shots and there were a lot of good chances and Varly was extremely good in that.

“Obviously, in that game we were sharp offensively. We scored power play goals and we capitalized on our chances.”

Through the 5-0 start, the Avs’ leading scorer is 18-year Nathan MacKinnon, the first overall pick in this year’s draft. MacKinnon has shown great speed and puck handling along with remarkable maturity in putting up one goal and five assists. His first NHL goal also represented veteran Paul Stastny’s 400th career point, creating a bit of a dilemma as to who should get the puck.

“I tweeted that question myself,” Landeskog said. “That was my first question when I came on the bench. I don’t know. Paulie, I’m sure he’ll get to 500, so I’m sure he’ll get that one. Maybe we’ll give this one to Nate, just to be nice.”

The young Swedish captain also offered a word of warning, however:

“I think we’ve just come together as a group and we’ve realized it’s go time and we need to send a message and we need to start off on the right foot. But saying that, 5-0 is nothing. That can change quickly. I remember my first year, we were 5-1 after six games. Knowing that, we’ve got to stay humble and get ready for the next game.”

That’s been Roy’s message as well.

“Why not, eh?” the first-year coach said. “That’s what we’ve been saying: Why not?

“Let’s play hard. Every day I see our guys come in and practice hard. It makes me think that we’re still in the right direction. There’s nothing else you can ask as a coach. If the guys are focused and doing what you’re asking in practice and then they’re doing the exact same thing (in the games). . . I honestly think tomorrow’s a good test. It’s a four-point game with Dallas. It’s an opportunity for us to win another game.”

Varlamov is scheduled to start the home games Tuesday against Dallas and Thursday against Detroit, the Red Wings’ only visit of the season to the Pepsi Center now that they are in the Eastern Conference. Giguere will start Saturday night at Buffalo.

Patrick Roy: ‘We want to surprise the world of hockey’

Patrick Roy’s return to the NHL as Colorado’s head coach has generated plenty of hype, especially in Canada. After he answered questions posed in English following his team’s morning skate today, he answered a couple posed in French.

Still, he’s taking over the second-worst team in the league last season, so I asked him, in English, what is fair to expect from the Avalanche this season in his first year as head coach.

“We want to surprise the world of hockey,” he said. “I look at all the predictions and nobody puts us in the playoffs. But we have the right to prove people wrong, and it starts tonight.”

Brave talk is common this time of year, of course. The Avs have been full of hope before each of the past three seasons, but that didn’t stop last season from being their worst since the franchise moved to Colorado from Quebec. Only Florida registered fewer points in the standings. The Avs’ point percentage was their lowest since the 1991-92 season, when they were the Quebec Nordiques.

Nevertheless, this year’s team is stocked with a group of talented young players reminiscent of those young Nordiques. With franchise legends Roy and Joe Sakic having taken the controls — Roy on the ice and Sakic in the front office — the Avs are convinced that things are looking up.

“In this dressing room, we’re expecting nothing less than a playoff spot,” 20-year-old power forward and team captain Gabe Landeskog said when I asked about fair expectations.

“It’s going to be a tough road there because we’re in a tough division this year with the defending Stanley Cup champions and a bunch of other teams as well. So it’s going to be tough, but we feel like we have the confidence going into this season that we can make a difference and we can surprise some people.”

However it turns out competitively, the league’s realignment should provide a relief to fans, and perhaps a little juice at the gate, too. Gone is the little-lamented Northwest Division that seemed to pit Colorado against Calgary every other night. The Avs are in a new Central Division that includes the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks along with the Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets.

With four players selected among the top three picks of their respective drafts — defenseman Erik Johnson (No. 1, by St. Louis, 2006), center Matt Duchene (No. 3, 2009), Landeskog (No. 2, 2011) and Nathan MacKinnon (No. 1, 2013) — the Avs have lots of skill. Whether they have the other characteristics that make up a winner is a different question.

“There’s no more excuses for being young in terms of myself and a few other guys in this room,” Duchene told me. “Once you get past your first couple of years, I think you’re well on your way to being a seasoned veteran in this league. This is my fifth year and hopefully there’s a lot more to come, but I’ve learned a lot so far and looking forward to applying that here this season.”

“We can’t just rely on our skill,” Landeskog added. “We know that we have a lot of skill, but it didn’t work last year and it didn’t work the year before, so we need to change something, obviously, and we need to pay more attention to details, pay more attention to the systems, all these kind of things Patrick’s been talking about and harping on all preseason here. What better experience can you have than with Adam Foote, Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy? So we’ve got the best circumstances here to make sure we’re a playoff team and a playoff contender. We know if we can develop the skill and experience and more leadership we’ll be fine.”

Beaten down by constant criticism as the team foundered under former coach Joe Sacco, several players mentioned the upbeat approach Roy has brought to his first NHL head coaching assignment.

“He’s very positive,” Duchene said. “When we need a kick in the butt, he gives it to us, but when we’re doing things the right way and doing things well, we get praise as well. And as a team, you need that. As much as you’re being criticized, you’ve got to be built up as well. He’s done an outstanding job of that and everybody has loved that part of it so far.”

Near the end of last season, veteran goaltender J.S. Giguere ripped into unnamed teammates for being too ready for summer vacation. So I asked him where the sense of urgency missing a year ago needs to come from.

“Obviously, the coaching staff’s going to help, making sure we have urgency and putting us back in the straight direction if we wander, but most of it has to come from within,” Giguere said. “We have to have some leadership. We have to have some guys standing up to the other guys when they’re not going in the right place. I totally believe in the leadership we have in this group.”

On paper, the Avs look like they could pull off a turnaround season. Their top lines — Landeskog, Paul Stastny, Alex Tanguay; Ryan O’Reilly, Duchene, Steve Downie; Jamie McGinn, MacKinnon, P.A. Parenteau — have plenty of speed, skill and scoring ability. Stopping their opponents from scoring — the Avs gave up 152 goals in 48 games last season — is another matter.

“Defense is extremely important,” Landeskog said. “I think for us, we want to play in the offensive zone, but if we’re not good in our zone then we’re never going to be in the offensive zone. So as simple as that. We want to make sure we’re good in the defensive zone. We know we struggled a little bit with that last year, so we made some changes there and some tweaks here and there, so we’ll be better this year.”

Everybody knows the history of Hall-of-Fame players trying their hand at coaching. It’s not good. But Roy paid his dues at the junior level and his players clearly believe in him. Still, surprising the world of hockey has been easier said than done for the Avs lately.

As a player, Roy often wrote big checks with his mouth, then cashed them between the pipes. The Avs desperately hope he can do the same from behind the bench.